Spring and Liminality
I am an inveterate sky-watcher, and this sky says “spring” to me!
It’s been a long winter. We’ve had all manner of crazy weather - early snows, then a warm, dry Christmas, and the winds. Oh! The winds! There are so many limbs down the wood chipper is going to have to run day and night once we fire it up. I think of February and March as the liminal months, though - not winter, really, but not spring. But we’ve finally reached April and things are starting to feel like they’re really moving .
I first learned about liminal states when I was an Anthropology undergraduate at Kent State University. The concept struck me as profound and it’s followed me ever since. Liminality is a state of being “not quite” - Not quite what you were, but not quite what you’re going to become. It comes from Arnold van Gennep’s 1909 Rites de Passage where he described it as one of the stages in rituals, but in the mid-1960s, Victor Turner saw how liminality can be applied in a much broader context.
A liminal stage is a place “in-between,” where the identity of who you were dissolves, but you haven’t quite reached your new state of being yet, either. It’s a place of anxiety and searching, of great potential and discomfiting fear. It’s a place of waiting. Of anticipation.
I’ve experienced these liminal states off and on as I’ve moved from career to career, and in those grinding, endless episodes of waxing and waning mental health. And every year, in February and March, I feel the liminality of Nature.
As people who try to live in rhythm with Nature, that time of year feels like a breathless pause. With friends, we celebrate the return of the sun on the winter solstice in December, but the light claws it’s way back slowly through snowy winter days and icy winter nights. We watch the spinning of stars across the sky, look for minute changes in the wind, and notice the color and species of birds who frequent the feeders.
February and March are so still. So quiet. It’s when we wait with restless anticipation for those first signs of spring. We pore over seed catalogs and dream of baby green plants, and long summer days playing in the dirt. And we wait. We stare out the window at the smothering blankets of snow and feel trapped. And we wait. We feel crabby and unmotivated and stuck. And we wait.
Then finally, finally, there’s movement. The sun is warmer, the red-wing blackbirds come back, and then the buzzards return. The sap starts to run in the trees. Snowdrops pop up. And then like an avalanche of sunshine, spring arrives in force. Seeds need starting, yards need cleaning, vegetable and flower beds need feeding.
Change is like this for me.
I go along on my merry way, acting as if what is going on now is the way it will always be. And then comes the liminality. My world changes, who I thought I was dissolves, and I wonder who I really am. I’m uncomfortable. I protest. I wallow. I worry. I wait. And then something new comes along - a job, a person, a change in attitude - and I see that I could never stay the way I was. That those pre-liminal and liminal stages are necessary for my growth is a lesson I seem to have to learn over and over again. If I were just a little wiser I would remind myself every day that life is change.
So here we are. I’m thrilled to be in private practice, but I’m still looking for opportunities to embrace all the aspects of my work that I love. It’s gray and chilly outside today, but crocuses and daffodils are starting to dot the brown-green yards and fields. There is an air of movement which invigorates me, and which gives me a sense of possibility. It’s time to follow Nature’s lead and transition away from liminality, to embrace change, and to find a new way of being. Happy Spring!
*If you’re interested in the other functions of liminal stages, such as being a means to experience “otherness” and to maintain or challenge social structure, check this out: Encyclopaedia Britannica, Theoretical Perspectives on Rite of Passage. I may not be an anthropologist anymore, but I LOVE this stuff!